WASHINGTON (AP) — The House will vote next week on two Republican-written immigration bills, a top GOP aide said late Tuesday, as leaders sought to move past an election-year civil war they worry will wound the party's prospects in November.
AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced the decision after a bargaining session among leaders and top conservative and GOP lawmakers ended without agreement on a single package all sides could support.
For weeks, the party's two wings have hunted ways to provide a route to citizenship for "Dreamer" immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children and also bolster border security, but have failed to find middle ground.
The House ended Tuesday's session as moderates fell short of their stated goal of having 218 signatures — a majority of the chamber — on a petition that would force votes on other immigration bills that GOP leaders oppose. They had said they would do that by Tuesday in order to trigger those votes later this month.
Instead, the centrists accumulated the names of all 193 Democrats but just 23 Republicans — two short of the number required.
GOP leaders have strongly opposed the rarely used petition tactic, asserting those votes would probably produce a liberal-leaning bill backed by Democrats and just a smattering of Republicans. They've actively lobbied other moderates to not sign the petition, and in talks bargainers have sought legislation both sides could back or alternatively a way for each faction to get a vote on legislation they could support.
Strong said the decision to consider two bills will avert the petition "and resolve the border security and immigration issues." She said GOP lawmakers would discuss the plan at a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a leader of the moderates' petition drive, gave his group credit for the planned House votes. GOP leaders had resisted holding those votes, wary of the GOP divisions they would highlight, until the petition neared the required signatures.
"Our goal has always been to force the House to debate and consider meaningful immigration reform, and today we're one step closer," Curbelo said.
Strong did not describe the two bills. But Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said one would be a strongly conservative measure that does not give the young immigrants a way to become citizens.
The alternative measure is still under discussion, Meadows said. But a Republican familiar with the discussions said it would likely be based on a proposal by moderates that would grant the Dreamers a chance for citizenship but also provide all $25 billion President Donald Trump wants for his wall and impose curbs on legal immigration that conservatives want. That Republican spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.
The conservative measure seemed certain to be defeated in the GOP-run House. If the second bill resembles the moderates' proposal, it too seems likely to lose from opposition by a combination of conservative Republicans and the chamber's Democrats.
"If Republicans plan to use Dreamers as a way to advance @realDonaldTrump's xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda, they will get a fight from House Democrats," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a tweet.